What Sep. 11, 2001 Means for the Future, updated August 2002
The world was struck by chaos on 9/11/2001, by an event considered probable by a few, but just a wildcard by most. The thoughts below represent some possibilities that we saw on September 15, 2001. How did our sense of the future work out? We review the forecasts and assumptions as of August 30, 2002. How did we do?
Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com. Brenda Cooper is the host of the Science Fiction and Space and Science sections of Futurist.com.
Terrorism will be redefined as war for the foreseeable future
(Our view September 15, 2001) In the past, most of the world, and Americans especially, have viewed terror attacks as relatively random crimes. This WTC bombing brought home that terror organizations view their campaign as warfare. Further, the aim of the fundamental and radical Islamic terrorists is not to eliminate curb-side luggage check-in at American airports. It is not to injure Americans. Their aim, boldly stated in their literature, their public announcements, and their actions for nearly two decades, is to kill Americans and destroy America and the way our way of life that America represents. Since the early 1980’s their tactics have escalated, and become more sophisticated. But their intent to be at war with what they call the great Satan was declared a long time ago. The “terroristsâ€ do not see themselves as such, but as soldiers waging war. The war is directed on the United States, on Democracy and freedom, on modernity, on insufficiently radical Islam, on the notion of global community, on the rights of women, on the future itself. Americans and others that suffered from the same delusion about the true nature of terrorism will henceforth see the situation as war, and pursue a new kind of warfare.
(Our View August 30, 2002) This rather sweeping forecast has largely been confirmed over the past year. In the United States our view of terrorism has changed from it being primarily a law enforcement issue to one of warfare, and clearly a new kind of war has and is being waged. This view was embraced early on by others in the world community, but global commitment to the view has predictably waned with time. The nature of the war on terror has also become a matter of policy debate within the U.S., despite continued low-level violence occurring almost daily in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Our description of the broad aims of radical Islamist terrorism has also been largely confirmed. The coming year will see a struggle to maintain cohesion on a world scale that this war is worth fighting. In the U.S. the political struggle will be around whether the war should be one of large scale offensives (invade Iraq for example) or one of merely strengthening defensive capabilities and attempting to avoid future attacks.
Political accountability of National governments will increase
(Our view September 15, 2001) We have already seen more accountability for governments overall. Note that Milosevic is already on trial. The sense that individual world leaders’ need to be accountable to accepted standards of behavior regarding human rights, including terrorism will deepen. Justice will become swifter. Groups like NATO, the EU, and the UN, and perhaps even the WTO, will be the enforcers, along with individual nations.
(Our View August 30, 2002) President Bush is fighting this, and for at least a while, he is likely to win based on the strength of his position, current approval, and demonstrated willingness to use force. Bush’s reversal of Clinton’s decision on the World Court is one example of this. However, it’s a tangled web – the stick Bush used on the World Court decision was willingness to continue the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, a UN effort. In the long run, even the US is likely to need to play better with world powers. This is both a likely and a probably positive outcome. At the moment, the first-world backlash against corporate misdeeds (personified by Worldcom, Adelphia, and Enron) is tipping the balance toward political power rather than corporate power.
The coming war will be significant, and long-lasting
(Our view September 15, 2001) It is likely that the U.S. and partners in the world will indeed embark on long-term warfare, taking military, economic, diplomatic, financial and other non-military attacks to the enemy for many months, and more likely for several years, until that enemy is perceived as defeated. The war therefore will be unlike any that has occurred before, in terms of being unconventional, and as the U.S. military is calling it, “asymmetrical.â€ A key feature of the unconventional warfare will involve cyberwar, or information systems. Almost all nations of the world will express support or become actively involved at some level. China appears to be siding with the ‘West.’ This is rather a big deal, even though it’s not being noticed very much at the moment. In this sense, this may be seen historically as indeed a World War. One thing that will be conventional is that there will be significant U.S. and Allied nation casualties involved.
(Our View August 30, 2002) Nearly a year into the War on Terrorism, it remains a political rallying cry and the twin efforts of homeland security and attack on terrorism are both going strong, although feeling the pressure of partisan politics. China seems to have mostly dropped off the map for the moment, but should not be discounted in the long run. Luckily, we have so far been wrong about US casualties.
The war will involve nations as targets
(Our view September 15, 2001) This is self evident, but may diminish rapidly as states formerly supportive of terror organizations scramble to get out of the way. More than one terror-supporting nation will be defeated in battle, and its government will be replaced.
(Our View August 30, 2002) The Taliban, predictably, fell. Sabers are being rattled towards Iraq, but the target appears to be Saddam Hussein more than Iraq, the country. It is still too early to see how well this prediction will play out, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to be slowing down other possible actions.
New approach to hijackings
(Our view September 15, 2001) Passive acceptance of hijackings by crews and passengers on planes will diminish or disappear, and a new ethos will encourage passengers and crew to risk their lives to attack hijackers in full force. New training procedures for air crews, eventually new hardening of cockpits, and better security provisions at airports will all work to reduce the threat of hijacking. Thus, terrorists will search for new weapons.
(Our View August 30, 2002) Cockpits have been secured with stronger doors, pilots appear to be – almost – allowed to carry guns, and no other hijackings have occurred to date. While we haven’t seen empirical evidence that traditional passive approached to hijacking have disappeared, our bet is that any future hijacking will be met with as much force as the passengers and crew can muster.
The U.S. will be attacked again
(Our view September 15, 2001) This will not be the final attack on the United States. An effort will be made in the future, with or without success, to attack using a weapon of mass destruction.
(Our View August 30, 2002) Luckily, this has not yet come true. We hope that this prediction was wrong, although we are not yet convinced that it is.
New York will re-build
(Our view September 15, 2001) New York will build not a memorial, but a new financial center with towers that dwarf in scale and ambition any that have existed or currently exist in the world.
(Our View August 30, 2002) Some formal plans were unveiled last month, only to meet with a weak and unenthusiastic reception. For now, we hope and the believe that something spectacular will be built.
Generation Cycles Repeat
(Our view September 15, 2001) According to theories of generational cycles, the youth of today born since about 1980, known as the Millennial or the Dot Com generation, were likely to be the next warrior generation, charged by history with fulfilling a great cause. Specifically, William Strauss has argued as far back as 1992 that this cause or campaign will happen in the first 20 years of the 21st Century, and will “be on a par with the Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II.” This now appears probable. The next greatest generation will secure freedom and democracy for a wider portion of the world and longer portion of the future, as the evolution of humanity proceeds inexorably.
(Our View August 30, 2002) One of the key characteristics of a warrior generation is a recognition that there is something that must be resisted or defeated in order that a greater good might emerge in the future. It is too soon to tell if this realization will be long-lasting, but the turn of generational cycles that we foresaw continues on schedule. The evidence has not been long lines at military recruitment stations, but a new soberness about the future, a new respect for military and uniformed personnel that was not evident prior to September 11, and increased interest in various ways of serving the future, such as enlistments in the Peace Corp.
Poverty and despair will be addressed
(Our view September 15, 2001) A root cause that enables terrorist cells to recruit educated and able people is the poverty and lack of economic and democratic opportunity for the future in many parts of the Southern hemispheres, particularly the Islamic world. As the military battle against terrorism is waged and won, the battle against poverty and for democracy in these regions will take on greater importance and become a part of the long-term effort.
(Our View August 30, 2002) As increased knowledge of the personal stories of many of the principal terrorist leaders has become known, the idea that they are driven by poverty and despair has been challenged, as in fact many come from relatively privileged upbringings. But the foot soldiers of the movement clearly come from regions of the world that tend to be the least democratic, most repressed and least economically developed. A great deal of global attention has indeed, as forecast, zeroed in on the need to alleviate poverty, repression and lack of opportunity as breeding grounds for terrorism and the coming years will see more efforts in this direction.
Technology research will accelerate, and technology use will change and grow
(Our view September 15, 2001) The Internet, cell phones, ubiquitous mapping, and increased communications capabilities will ensure more accountability. That’s already working. Cellular telephones in particular will see a rapid boost in their use. They will be seen as a tool for personal and even national security, beyond the level of that perception to date.
Funding will probably INCREASE for biotech, medical technology, and all forms of communications. There will be intensified efforts to perfect and deploy micro-miniature surveillance systems, with flying cameras. Research in near nano-scale communication and surveillance systems will intensify. New capabilities will seem more important than long debates about right and wrong. Scarier technology will be funded more easily than stem-cell research was approved. Since we are researching so many truly dangerous capabilities, this may not be good. On the flip side, wonderful new technologies have often arisen from war, and the frightening research on things like artificial intelligence and nanotechnology have always been known to have positive breakthrough possibilities. We should be watchful, but it will harder to watch as more research dives below security clearances.
(Our View August 30, 2002) As predicted, research and development in defense related technologies has accelerated. Of particular note are technologies related to surveillance, whether for battlefield or long-range reconnaissance, or for holographic imaging of airline passengers as they pass through security. The U.S. Army has let the first contracts for development of Future Combat Systems. While this program was in play prior to September 11, its urgency and focus have become sharper, in particular the intent to develop smaller, more rapidly deployable and more lethal battle units. The coming years will see rapid progress in development and deployment of micro technologies.
Privacy and security debate will be critical
(Our view September 15, 2001) There is already an intensifying debate about privacy/security. Security will win, at least largely, and fairly easily. 9-11-01 is fresh in our hearts; McCarthy isn’t. That’s not bad – except in a war climate, it’s a possible outcome that the emphasis on security over privacy will be more one-way than we want, when it is over. This is an important debate to watch – transparency is good for society as long as it works both ways, as David Brin pointed out in “The Transparent Society.â€
We will have a national ID system. If the rhetoric dies enough for us to move intelligently, it will be based on DNA. Other measures will also appear. An airport security system using cameras and face recognition software attached to national crime data-bases could scan every face boarding a plane, and cross-reference to terrorist watch lists. Such systems exist today, but are not widely deployed. For such a system to work in real-time, advances would need to be made in processing and communications speed.
(Our View August 30, 2002) This has played out largely as predicted so far. Today’s privacy/security argument is paid citizen informers. Shiver. The voices of complaint are growing, as they should. Transparency is required for our safety in a time when a small set of individuals can do much damage. The preferred future has omni-directional transparency. We are lurching that way, but not quite on target. The US government appears to have increased its ability to see into our lives, and also increased its ability to fog the glass over its own actions. The good news is that technology is a powerful push FOR transparency, and American politicians and our legal system are not entirely rolling over for Ashcroft. Hopefully, these competing pushing trends will remain somewhat in balance.
There will be large economic shifts
(Our view September 15, 2001) The computer, Internet, and telecommunications industries will benefit greatly. This war will be to those industries what World War Two was to steel and airplanes. The airline industry is likely to stagger, and then recover just fine. The government will help. Domestic flights will recover faster than international travel. Insurance may need a government bail-out, and some restructuring is likely. Overall, the economy will be all right, with some black spots, likely continued high unemployment for at least a while, and some very positive movement in industries mentioned above.
(Our View August 30, 2002) The economic repercussions have been more significant than anticipated, given that the timing of the terror attacks coincided with other factors in the national and global economy that were recessionary. The most significant impact has continued to be the psychological impact on the equity markets, as the war on terror provides an uncertainty backdrop which appears to exaggerate each negative event, whether an unemployment report, or a corporate accounting scandal. As for our specific forecasts, the computer, Internet and telecommunications industries have not benefited greatly from the war on terrorism, and in fact the impact has probably been the opposite, as businesses continue to hold off on new investment. The airline industry indeed staggered, and indeed was helped by the government, but has yet to recover fully. We now expect that it will be some time before real growth in airline traffic resumes, at least another year or so as security measures become fully integrated enough to reduce the current inconvenience of air travel. The insurance companies seemed to come through in reasonable shape. As for the overall economy, we believe that the middle-term outlook, five to seven years out, is positive, but the short term outlook, one to three years out, is mixed at best, and will show a pattern of advance and retreat because of all the uncertainties which continue to exist.
Emergency preparedness will increase
(Our view September 15, 2001) We’ll dust off our Y2K plans, update them, and re-implement them. Households will be more prepared. A significant amount of civilian training will occur.
(Our View August 30, 2002) Brenda works for a local government. Their level of preparedness for usual events like earthquakes and winter storms was good to start with, and is slightly increased. There is talk about doing more, including focusing on terrorism. The roadblock is nationwide lack of funding for government, particularly local government. This works against significantly increased preparedness. The costs of really changed preparedness levels are astronomical. On the personal side, we’d like to hear more about what people are doing. Feel free to email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A withdrawal from religious fundamentalism
(Our view September 15, 2001) There will be an increase in the draw to all forms of spirituality for personal comfort, but some withdrawal from fundamentalism, even Christian fundamentalism. People want to find meaning after events with no apparent meaning rock our core identity, our sense of fairness, and our sense of safety.
(Our View August 30, 2002) While it would be premature to say there has been a retreat of fundamentalism, it does seem safe to say that fundamentalism is more likely to be challenged, whether western religions or Islam. That is, the press, the general population, and policy makers are more inclined to classify fundamentalism as dangerous rather than merely interesting. We would anticipate this perceptual shift to continue in the coming year. It is now being understood that clashes of religious fundamentalists are among the most significant threats to peace and stability. An increase in spirituality is difficult to confirm and we no longer anticipate unusual increases in that direction.
Nations which follow Islam will reassess their future
(Our view September 15, 2001) The Islamic faith will be forced to reexamine its approach to global community, and its tacit acceptance of the most radical elements that preach hate for and destruction of the West. If Islam does not make this reassessment, it will face increased hostility by the non-Muslim world. The battle within Islam, and other religions as well, between those with a modernist view and those with a medieval view will intensify. The world will be reminded that in reality only about 15% of the world’s Muslims are Arabs, with most living in Asia and Africa. Thus, the radical versions of Islam tend to come from the politically unstable Arab countries, and terror is evidence of a political as much or more than a religious hatred.
(Our View August 30, 2002) This forecast has clearly been in evidence over the past year. Of particular note has been the discussion of how much both Muslim and Arab culture have atrophied in terms of developments in science and technology, education, the arts, and so on. While external forces are a factor, internal dynamics are more generally accepted as the primary cause. The struggle between extremists and moderates within Islamic nations for the preferred future direction has intensified. What has also become increasingly clear to the non-Muslim world is the degree to which extremist Muslims tend to hold the upper hand within their own cultures. The extremists are dangerous to those who oppose them, and Muslim moderates, while perhaps a majority, are silent for reasons of self-preservation as much as politics. What has also become more clear is the degree to which, within the radical elements of Islam, the world view and violence which flows from that view is driven by a religious-based hatred, rather than by politics, and is thus not generally amenable to persuasion or reason. The future of peaceful global civilization is very much entwined with the outcome of the struggle for the soul of Islam, which will continue to evolve in the coming year, with the outcome unclear.
Racism declines as a result of this crisis
(Our view September 15, 2001) We are being much better about racism than we were after Pearl Harbor. There are a few idiots out there, some individual atrocities, and many haunted feelings that are not being expressed openly but which people of Middle Eastern heritage will sense. But there will be no wholesale action against any people who are citizens, not by the government, and not by the people. We’ve grown up a lot since the 1940’s.
(Our View August 30, 2002) We would say this turned out to be true, thankfully. Yes, there are problems, but we did not react as unfairly as we have in the past, a sign that we are growing up as a nation and a people. Should there be another successful and catastrophic attack, however, our maturity will be very much tested.
Wildcards of the Next 6-Months to “N” Years
(Our view September 15, 2001)
- The Taliban gives up Bin Laden immediately, and war in Afghanistan is averted.
- The difficulty of this battle is overrated, and terrorist cells collapse much more quickly than now considered likely.
- The next terrorist attacks happen swiftly, and use biological warfare (e.g. DC water supply targeted). Targets remain symbolic. For example, Hollywood is a likely target – the symbol of an entertainment industry that fundamentalist Moslem groups have called decadent.
- Long-drawn out war is finally ended with, say, nano-weapons, in the same way that nuclear abilities ended WWII. The same level and type of danger go with this one as went, and partially remain, with nuclear power.
We discover a cause different than Islamic fundamentalism for the WTC and Pentagon attacks.
(Our View August 30, 2002) The second of these wild cards has turned out to be at least partly what indeed happened. None of the others came to pass, and now seem less likely or no longer relevant. The greatest remaining wild cards are the length of this “war” with terrorism, and whether Bin Laden is alive or dead at this time.